Fun fact about Predator: The first on-screen victim of the monster is played by Shane Black. The producers brought him in because he was a hot writer around Hollywood — his screenplay for Lethal Weapon had been purchased but not yet turned into a finished movie — and they figured that they might get a re-write or some punch-up out of him if they brought him to the set. In an oral history of the movie that The Hollywood Reporter put together for the 30th anniversary, producer John Davis said Black ended up refusing to do the re-write because he was there as an actor, not a writer, which is why they killed him off so quickly. Things turned out okay for Shane anyway. Lethal Weapon was a blockbuster, his writing career took off, and since then he’s made movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys, and Iron Man 3, among others. He’s also, because the universe moves in weird circles, writing and directing the next installment in the Predator franchise, titled The Predator and scheduled for release later this year.
This is fun news for him because he gets to add his own touch to a movie he had a hand in making before his career took off, but it’s great news for me, both because I enjoy Shane Black movies and because it gives just enough justification to write about a movie I love that came out 31 years ago.
The time has come to talk about Predator.
1. The plot of Predator, in short: There isn’t one. Actually, no. That’s not quite fair. There is barely one. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Dutch, the leader of a paramilitary unit that has been lured to Central America by Dillon (Carl Weathers), a CIA agent who is looking for a missing Cabinet minister. Why does Dillon bring in Dutch? Because Dutch is the best. How do we know Dutch is the best? Because Dillon states it two separate times while explaining himself. (“Some damn fool accused you of being the best” and “We need the best. That’s why you’re here.”) Does it matter in the grand scheme of things that Dutch was lured there under false pretenses? I am pleased to report that it does not, really. In another different and probably worse movie, this type of political subterfuge would be the whole game. Here, it’s just briefly skimmed through to get them to the jungle so an alien can hunt them.
That’s it. That is all Predator is. A thinly constructed backstory followed by 90 minutes of explosions in a jungle.
2. And you know what? That’s fine. There’s barely a plot to Jaws beyond “Guys, we gotta get that shark.” John Wick is one of my favorite movies of this decade and the plot of that is just “Keanu Reeves takes down the Russian mob because Theon from Game of Thrones killed his puppy.” Plots are completely optional in action movies if the action is good enough. Give me 90 minutes of Arnold Schwarzenegger hunting an alien in the jungle over two hours of some incomprehensible hooey with five different twists. I’m a simple man.
3. Everyone in this movie is supremely jacked. Just shredded. Here, look:
This is a screencap of Dutch and Dillon greeting each other. Look at those arms. The veins in both of them are so prominent that they look like mountain ranges in topographical maps. Arnold’s bicep looks like mid-size grapefruit that got flattened when he squeezed it under his skin. None of this has anything to do with the movie itself but neither did anything leading up to the jungle-hunting business, really, so I think I’m justified in bringing it up.
4. Speaking of jacked dudes in the cast, Jesse Ventura is in Predator. This became very notable in the early-2000s when Ventura was winding down his term as Governor of Minnesota and Schwarzenegger was starting his tenure as Governor of California because it meant the cast of Predator was in charge of four percent of American states. This was surreal at the time, and still is a little wild to think about, but loses a little gusto now that we have a President who co-starred with Slimer in a Bobby Brown music video from the Ghostbusters II soundtrack. (This is true, look it up.)
5. The most famous line of dialogue from Predator is, of course, “Get to the choppah!” Schwarzenegger says this twice, actually, once in a calm tone and then again later in the shout that you probably recognize and would use a lot if you were the kind of person who traveled by helicopter. (Helicopter pilots must hate this so much.) But, for my money, the best line of dialogue in the movie is this one:
I… I’m not entirely sure what that even means. I do love it, though. Please do say it to yourself right now in your best Jesse Ventura Voice. It’s fun.
Also, somewhat related: I just watched the movie with the subtitles on so I could make screencaps like that one. Doing so answered a question I’ve always had about a specific line of dialogue. After the team sets a trap for the Predator and discovers the trap failed, Dillon turns to Dutch and says “What are you gonna try next? Cheese?,” sarcastically implying that a mouse trap might have worked better. Fine, good. But I had always thought — hoped — that the punctuation was more like “What are you gonna try next, Cheese?,” like “cheese” was a dismissive nickname Carl Weathers’ character lobbed at people when they screwed up. Part of me wishes I never found out.
6. A few notes about the Predator from Predator:
– Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator but was later replaced by Kevin Peter Hall. You really should go read up on the JCVD-as-Predator thing. I recommend starting with that THR oral history I mentioned in the intro. It lists six different reasons from six different people for his firing. My favorite is the whining.
– The movie never explains, even a little, what the Predator is or why it came to Earth or what its mission is. We see a spaceship and we see a pod shoot off toward Earth and then we see a huge lizard man with an invisibility cloak and shoulder mounted artillery who is hellbent on killing people. Sometimes a movie will spend a chunk of time on its villain’s backstory in an attempt to humanize him or explain his actions. Predator has no time for that. There’s too much artillery to fire. There is so much artillery to fire. The movie has a full 60-second scene of the team just shooting bullets into the jungle the first time they see the monster. You want them to trim that to explain drama from the monster’s home planet? Please.
– The Predator is a flawed beast, man. It can make itself invisible but also bleeds easily-trackable fluorescent neon green ooze. It has something resembling heat vision that is rendered completely useless by a thin layer of wet mud. It only hunts other human animals that are armed, out of some sense of fairness, which is nice but not a super effective way to hunt. My point is, as much trouble as Dutch and the boys had with the Predator in 1987, I feel like a reasonably proficient Fortnite teen could take it out now.
– The Predator does a diabolical laugh. This happens at the end, and we’ll discuss it more in a moment, but for now, please just consider it a reminder that you should watch movies with the captions on every now and then, even if it ruins a line or two of dialogue for you somewhere. Those are the breaks, Cheese.
7. John McTiernan directed Predator. You want to talk about a run? Check this out: McTiernan directed Predator in 1987, Die Hard in 1988, and The Hunt for Red October in 1990. Find me a director who made a better string of watchable movies in one three year span. He’s responsible for almost as much basic cable weekend scheduling as Dick Wolf. And it gets better. He also directed Die Hard With a Vengeance and the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair. The man is responsible for our best action movie (full stop), our best submarine movie, one of our best heist movies, and our best… whatever exactly Predator is. Let’s go with “killer alien loose in a jungle” movie. Not exactly a ton of competition there but still tough to top.
Another interesting fact about John McTiernan: He got tied up in the Anthony Pellicano wiretapping mess a few years ago and spent some time in jail. That’s bad. Less bad, however, is the fact that, while he was incarcerated, he wrote a potential sequel to The Thomas Crown Affair titled Thomas Crown and the Missing Lioness, which I just found out about while I was doing research for this post and now want to see with such intensity that I might become physically ill if I do not.
8. Notable deaths in Predator, ranked from least to most impressive:
Poncho — Bonked in the abdomen by a falling branch and then picked off by the Predator as he was limping around.
Hawkins — Snuck up on and splattered by the Predator while trying to protect the survivor of the hostage raid.
Mac — Head mostly blown off via rocket through forehead while seeking revenge.
Jesse Ventura — Missile through the MTV logo of his cutoff t-shirt, which he wore under a camouflage jacket that he left open, thus defeating the purpose of the camouflage, which would be a bigger deal if we cared about plot holes or logic.
The Predator — Basically nuked itself and its surroundings after losing a hand-to-hand fight with Dutch at the end.
Dillon — Killed by the Predator after losing his arm to the Predator, which in no way prevented the now-detached arm from continuing to squeeze the trigger of its automatic weapon and spray bullets all over the jungle.
Billy — Threw his gun in the river, took off his shirt, slashed himself across the chest with a huge hunting knife, then sacrificed himself to the Predator in the hope it would buy the surviving members of the team enough time to escape, which it absolutely did not. Still a nice gesture.
9. This scared the crap out of me the first time I saw it and it still does today.
This is what I meant earlier about the heat vision being rendered useless by mud. The monster couldn’t see him at all. I’m still pretty sure that’s not how heat vision works, even if the mud is very cool, or if there are different rules for alien thermal imaging, in general. I also do not care because it allowed us to get this shot out of it, in which a mud-caked Arnold Schwarzenegger peeks with terror at the mostly invisible hell-beast slithering past him. Predator whoops ass.
10. The final battle is great for a few reasons, from the Predator removing its armor and weapons to fight Dutch one-on-one because it deems him a worthy adversary, to that maniacal laugh I mentioned earlier, to the general concept of Arnold Schwarzenegger and an alien who was almost played by Jean-Claude Van Damme just whaling away on each other in a jungle. All wonderful and worth noting. But my favorite part of the final battle is that Dutch spent a significant amount of time setting up booby traps before it started, which is basically the ending of Home Alone, too. Am I saying Home Alone stole the ending of Predator but swapped out Arnold Schwarzenegger and a murderous space alien for Macaulay Culkin and the Wet Bandits? No, certainly not. I am not saying that at all.
But I’m not not saying it either.